Cervical screening drive urges millions of women to book GP appointments

A new campaign aimed at boosting cervical cancer screening will encourage millions of women who missed their last smear test to book an appointment with their GP practice.

An image from the new TV campaign (Photo: Public Health England)
An image from the new TV campaign (Photo: Public Health England)

Public Health England (PHE) has today launched Cervical Screening Saves Lives, the first national campaign urging all eligible women to take up their screening invitation in a bid to boost the number of women attending their smear test.

Cervical screening rates in England are currently at a 20-year low, with one in four eligible women (aged 25-64) not attending their test compared to the national standard of 80%. This equates to roughly 3.6m women, all of whom are being encouraged by PHE to ‘book an appointment at their GP practice’.

Free campaign resources - including posters, badge stickers, wallet cards, digital materials and a briefing document outlining different ways to promote the campaign - will be sent to all GP practices across the country.

‘There are a number of barriers to screening, including lack of knowledge about the purpose of the test and concern that it might be painful and embarrassing,' a PHE statement said. 'Healthcare professionals play an integral role in encouraging uptake by making the screening appointment easier to attend, providing reassurance and addressing specific emotional and practical barriers that deter women from attending.’

PHE research shows that once women have been screened, the vast majority feel positive about the experience, with over eight in 10 (87%) stating they are glad they went, and that they were put at ease by the nurse or doctor doing the test (84%). It has been estimated that if everyone attended screening regularly, 83% of cervical cancer cases could be prevented.

Running for eight weeks until 28 April, the campaign will include TV advertising, washroom posters, media partnerships and social media drives - together with national and regional PR activity.  The campaign also features positive real-life stories to help normalise the screening process and ‘open up conversations’.

Cervical screening

GP Dr Ellie Cannon, who is working with PHE on the Cervical Screening Saves Lives campaign, said: ‘I’ve had patients affected by cervical cancer throughout my career as a doctor; I know increasing the number of women attending screening is essential to prevent more cases.

'PHE launching this campaign is a massive step in the right direction to try and normalise the process, but there’s also a huge amount we can do as healthcare professionals to increase the number of women attending. We need to take the opportunities to talk to women and help them understand the process and benefits of screening so they feel empowered to attend.’

Anne Mackie, director of programmes for the UK National Screening Committee at PHE, said: ‘The ongoing decline in cervical screening attendance is a real concern. We know for some women taking up an invitation isn’t always easy, this can be due to factors such as lack of knowledge, fear and embarrassment. I would encourage all healthcare professionals to back the campaign to enable more women to attend and normalise conversations about screening.’

NHS long-term plan

Other steps being taken to improve the uptake of the cervical screening programme include:

  • A review and introduction of new screening invitation letters, leaflets and results letters.
  • Text messaging reminders.
  • Introduction of a national HPV primary screening test by December 2019. This will become the routine way of testing cervical screening samples across the whole of the programme, but patients won’t notice any difference as the procedure is the same.
  • Redevelopment of the cervical screening easy read booklet and development of an easy read invitation for women with learning disabilities.

In addition, the role of self-testing for cervical cancer is currently being considered by the National Screening Committee. Early diagnosis of cancer and high quality screening programmes are key priorities under the NHS long-term plan, which was published earlier this year.

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